Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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Cultivating Hope and Embracing Opportunities


duck takeoff closeup DSC_5020This week marks five years since I left employment and became a freelance writer and editor, in addition to my ongoing work as a spiritual guide and retreat leader. I’ve been feeling for a few weeks now that I wanted to honor this milestone with a blog post, and I had an idea for the theme, but then Spirit intervened this past week and something else, quite transformative for me, arrived in my life instead.

The story begins with the first wave of my survey results, which have given me much to contemplate. I’m grateful and, at times, feeling a bit overwhelmed. One theme that has surfaced is the need for hope. To quote a few of my respondents on this theme:

“It’s easy to get lost in apathy and hopelessness as well as isolation.”

“How to help people (myself included) have hope again in this despairing time in our country and world.”

“Hope, like love, is the essential and most basic need for those of us who are awake and on this journey we call life. Especially in light of the current national and worldwide climate, so many people are on the edge of hopelessness, for good reason.”

One of the ideas that has surfaced in response to this theme is developing a podcast on hope. It feels timely, and necessary, and a response to the question of “What is mine to do?” as a result of last November’s election. I’d been letting that idea percolate in the back of my mind—and my heart—when my SCORE mentor sent me an email that announced an extension to the deadline for the YWCA Southern Arizona portion of the 2017 SBA InnovateHER challenge, suggesting that I apply.

I’d read about this challenge and seen billboards advertising it around town. It caught my attention, but I hadn’t felt I had anything to contribute. On Tuesday morning, I was writing some initial ideas for an article on contemplation and resistance (the theme of a forthcoming e-book from Ordinary Mystic) and then read an email from artist and spiritual guide Melanie Weidner, who was inviting some of her community to join her in “A Brave Opportunity” by recording and sending to her brief videos on the impact of her artwork. When I read my mentor’s email, it all came together: hope, podcast, a form of resistance that would work for me, the need to be brave and embrace opportunities….

The result, on this five-year anniversary of transformation in my life and ministry, is saying Yes! to the potential of another round of transformation. I have written my first—albeit small (the limit was 3200 characters!)—grant proposal and submitted it for consideration. I have put out there, publicly, my intention to enter the world of podcasting and also to expand my retreat offerings to focus on the subject of hope. There was a point where I was literally shaking as all this was coming together—as if the Holy Spirit was vibrating within me (or adrenaline was overwhelming my nervous system, but I choose to believe in the Spirit instead!).

When has the Spirit brought disparate elements together in your life to reveal something new? When has God invited you into a brave opportunity? Are you interested in being one of my interviewees on the Hope Podcast someday?

I would like to close today by inviting you to pray for all who are submitting proposals for InnovateHER. Here in southern Arizona, the next steps will happen very fast. If I am accepted to pitch my proposal, I’ll find out on Tuesday and the pitch sessions take place this coming Saturday, June 3!


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Cataracts and Inner Vision


I’ve recently been diagnosed with a cataract in my left eye. Yes, I’m a bit young for cataracts, but evidently this isn’t an age-related cataract. It’s also not on the front of the eye’s lens, which is where most cataracts develop. My cataract has grown on the back of the lens, although I don’t have the risk factors usually associated with such a cataract. I guess I’m a medical mystery, or just one of the “lucky ones.”

I am lucky to have health insurance and to live in a first-world country in the 21st century. All those things mean that removing this cataract, probably in July, should be (God willing!) a straightforward and relatively simple procedure (your prayers are welcome). Reading up on cataracts, I’ve learned that they are the primary cause of blindness amongst my less fortunate sisters and brothers around the world. Over the years, I’ve received multiple pleas for donations from nonprofits that send medical care teams to third-world countries to perform cataract surgeries for some “lucky ones” who are thus able to regain their sight.

I must admit: For most of my life, I have taken my eye health for granted. This is despite having married a man who worked for the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind for almost two decades, and having a very dear friend whose husband is slowly going blind from diabetes complications and who has a history of eye issues herself. This awareness has changed over the past few months, as I’ve sensed my vision growing cloudy and wondered about the cause. Certainly it was a relief to learn that the diagnosis was nothing more complex than a cataract.

My pondering also led me down an interesting path that is the reason for my choice to post on this topic. I found myself thinking about the fact that a cataract on the back of the eye is more unusual. It led me to wonder whether, at some deep, unconscious level, I am still struggling with my unwillingness to look within, face my fears, and live out my vocation. It’s a lifelong struggle for me—being afraid of success, rather than failure—and was one of the first topics about which I posted nearly four years ago. If I’ve spent a lot of my life running away from my inner vision—from what I knew, or sensed, that I was called to do—is it any wonder that, over time, my inward vision might have clouded up?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf we refuse to see, and embrace, the invitations issued by our souls, or by the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, will we develop a blindness to the Spirit’s direction? I believe so. Whether it manifests in literal blindness is not the issue, nor am I proposing a literal, physical correlation. I am, however, positing a deeper-truth connection between the blindnesses we choose to embrace and our eventual inability to see what we have ignored, or run away from, for so long.

Are there cataracts developing on the lens of your inner vision? Are there deeper truths that you are ignoring or fleeing? Could you invite the divine surgeon to remove those cataracts so that you can see clearly and embrace your calling, or more clearly see the next step on your spiritual journey?


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Dying to Anger and Rising to Love


It’s still Eastertide, although many of us have moved on, in our hearts—back into “ordinary” time. Sometimes, though, I still find resurrection floating through my head in different ways. Other times, I find myself returning to holy week and the lessons I learned this year during those holy days.

One lesson that caught my attention during holy week was that Jesus stopped being angry once he was arrested. He was angry in the Garden of Gethsemane, when his disciples slept, and then when they sought to fight. But once he was arrested, it was as if the fight, the anger, drained out of him. He became completely passive to what was happening. Furthermore, he doesn’t seem to regain his anger when he returns, resurrected. Something happened, in the harrowing of hell or the reconnection with Trinity, which enabled him to be firm, strong, loving…and no longer angry.

I wonder: Is there a place for letting go and letting what’s unfolding just happen—even if it leads to death? Did Jesus know, deep in his heart, that even his death would serve a larger purpose? Did he recognize or remember that every action we take speaks loudly—louder than a torrent of words possibly could?

We used to say, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Now all we seem to do in America is bludgeon each other with words. We are dying under a barrage of words. Video games also provide a way to live out the fantasy of doing violence to each other, and ourselves, over and over and over, but using words as weapons is perhaps a more insidious crime to all of Creation.

IMG_4621e Jesus wrappedMy mind also keeps returning to Joseph of Arimathea, buying a linen shroud and wrapping Jesus’ body in it (as illustrated in this image of a painted in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem). I think of the Shroud of Turin, which is not from Jesus’ time, but at this point is probably well steeped in holiness simply from believers’ association of this fragile cloth with Jesus’ body. It’s holy, as we are holy, having been steeped over and over again in Jesus through the bread and wine of Eucharist.

There is so much more to faith than the journalistic facts. We must move beyond literal words in this culture. We must reconnect with the deeper truths that infuse meaning in our lives. We must understand that praying in a place makes it holy: invites the Trinity, the Risen Christ, to infuse this fragile, suffering earth with resurrection light and eternal Love.

How will you issue that invitation to the Risen Christ today?


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Andrew


DSC_1881eDuring Holy Week this year, Henry and I took a turn holding vigil at church after the Maundy Thursday service. This is a tradition of taking turns “staying awake” overnight with Jesus, whose disciples fell asleep while he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32–41).

I found myself thinking about the “big three” disciples who fell asleep when Jesus asked them to keep watch: Peter, John, and James. Then I wondered how the other disciples felt, having been left further behind in the garden. What were they doing? Did they fall asleep? Did they feel left out when Jesus took those three and went further into the garden—or were they happy to just be followers, hanging out in an olive garden on a warm spring night and talking about all the events of the past few days?

Andrew in particular came to mind, in part because of two churches named after St. Andrew that have factored into my life. There is one here in Tucson, where I was baptized at about nine months old, and there is one in Albuquerque, where I grew up and was confirmed. So I looked up references to Andrew on my cell phone (yes, I pulled out my cell phone while I was in church, but that’s where the handiest Bible concordance was to be found!). I found thirteen results. These include the usual ones about the listing of the twelve apostles, and that Andrew was Peter’s brother. Mark 3 says Andrew shared a home with Peter and his mother-in-law. Mark 13 has the “big four” (Peter, James, John, and Andrew) asking Jesus privately about when the Temple will be destroyed.

But the Gospel of John has more. John says that Andrew was one of two disciples of John the Baptist, who heard him say “That’s the man!” about Jesus and followed him. Andrew then went to find his brother, telling him they’d found the Messiah. Thus scripture makes clear that Andrew was already searching, seeking, repenting, presumably already baptized, before Jesus’ ministry even started. Andrew was already on the spiritual journey.

Andrew is also the one to point out that there are fish and bread available when Jesus asks Philip how the five thousand will be fed. Andrew notices, he speaks up, he finds a starting place. He forges a path for transformation.

A pivotal scripture passage in my life is John 12:20–22. Some Greeks come to Philip and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” I encountered that phrase on a pulpit plaque in a church we were visiting when I was fourteen years old, and that idea of pointing the way to Jesus has become emblematic of my vocation. But as I re-read that scripture on Maundy Thursday, I found myself noticing the fact that Philip doesn’t immediately go and tell Jesus. Instead, he goes first to Andrew.

I wonder why. Perhaps it was because both Philip and Andrew were from Bethsaida. Perhaps it was because Andrew was one of the “big four.” Perhaps it was because he knew Andrew would know how to handle the fact that these Greek gentiles wanted to speak to a Jewish rabbi.

The Greek Orthodox church names Andrew Prōtoklētos (Πρωτόκλητος), or the First-called—which makes sense if he was initially a follower of John the Baptist. So, if he was already—perhaps always—a seeker, did it bother him that Jesus didn’t include him in the “big three” that night in Gethsemane, or did he recognize that being singled out was not that important? Perhaps he wasn’t looking for a place beside Jesus “in his glory,” like James and John were. Perhaps being a follower was enough.

I’m still pondering Andrew. I think there’s more to learn here, from prayerful pondering on this disciple of Jesus. I invite you to ponder with me. Choose Andrew, or another of the disciples, or one the women who also followed Jesus. Who is speaking to you in this Eastertide, inviting you to dig more deeply into his or her experience with Jesus?